Courtesy of Cristian Padilla Romero

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers removed Tania Romero from the Irwin County Detention Center in southern Georgia early Monday morning in an attempt to deport her from the United States, according to the Honduran consulate in Atlanta.

Shortly after midnight on Monday, Cristian Padilla Romero GRD ’24 received a phone call from one of his mother’s fellow detainees at the detention center where Romero has been held since mid-August, he said. In an interview with the News, Padilla Romero said that ICE had “forcibly removed” his mother from the center during the night. ICE officials allegedly told Romero that she was receiving a phone call, Padilla Romero said, and once in another room, Romero was handcuffed and moved to an undisclosed location. Romero’s arms bore bruises following her midnight removal from the detention center, added Padilla Romero, who said he spoke to his mother via video chat on Monday evening.

“ICE’s continuously willful and capricious actions are putting my mom’s life in danger.” Padilla Romero said. “This unmistakably amounts to torture.”

About two weeks ago, Padilla Romero began an online petition for ICE to release his mother. Romero was first detained in August after being pulled over for a traffic violation and has spent nearly three months in the detention center. While in detention, Romero — who is recovering from stage 4 oral cancer — has seen a decline in her health and was diagnosed with a severe vitamin B12 deficiency, according to the petition.

On Monday afternoon, #ReleaseTaniaNow organizers received confirmation from the Honduran consulate that ICE had attempted to fly Romero out of the country but failed to do so because they did not possess the required travel documents. They then transported her back to the detention center. Per ICE policy, removal orders cannot be carried out until “the receiving country of the person being deported [issues] travel documents.” The Honduran embassy has not and does not plan to issue said documents, according to Padilla Romero, who has communicated with the embassy through the Honduran consulate in Atlanta.

Irwin County Detention Center personnel informed Padilla Romero early Monday morning that, while his mother had been removed, they could not disclose her status or whereabouts, he said. Seeking more information, Noemi Puntier, the attorney representing the family, visited Atlanta’s immigration courthouse and found it closed due to Veterans Day, Padilla Romero told the News.

After learning late last week that ICE was moving forward with Romero’s deportation — despite her stage 4 oral cancer and her family’s active appeals process — #ReleaseTaniaNow organizers hosted a mass phone-banking event at Yale’s Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration on Friday. Volunteers made over 600 calls to the offices of Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., urging them to advocate for Romero’s release on humanitarian grounds.

“The Honduran government is asking ICE [to allow Romero to stay] in the U.S. for the years she needs to be treated,” said Angelina Williams, consul of the Honduran consulate in Atlanta, in an interview with the News. “The hospital where she received treatment in Georgia has issued a letter that she needs follow-up treatment. She needs four more years in the U.S.”

ICE public relations officer Lindsay Williams did not respond to multiple requests for comment Monday.

In the two weeks since Padilla Romero launched the campaign to release his mother from ICE custody, the family’s story has gained national traction. Both the petition and an associated GoFundMe page have each accumulated nearly 40,000 signatures and donations, respectively.

On Friday, protesters gathered outside McBath’s Capitol Hill office to demand more information about her office’s efforts to prevent Romero’s deportation. House staffers told the protestors they could not provide specifics due to House ethics rules.

The offices of McBath, Isakson and Perdue did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

University administrators spoke out against Romero’s treatment on Monday.

“I am deeply troubled that our immigration policy has come to this point,” University President Peter Salovey wrote in an email to the News.

Salovey stressed that as the grandson of immigrants who came to the United States with “dreams of a better life,” he takes personal issue with Romero’s plight. Immigrants bring economic and intellectual strength to the country, he said, noting that he has raised concerns with U.S. presidents and met with numerous members of Congress regarding the issue. Salovey added that he will continue to work for fair and inclusive immigration policies.

“I stand by Cristian Padilla Romero and am inspired by him and his mother Tania,” Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Lynn Cooley wrote in a statement to the News. “I am taking every opportunity to remind everyone of the crucial importance of immigration and international students to higher education.”

ICE was founded in 2003 following the enactment of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

John Besche | john.besche@yale.edu

Olivia Tucker | olivia.tucker@yale.edu